The doors of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas have only been open for 3 years, but already this locale has become known all over the world as a prominent showcase for artists such as Norman Rockwell, James Turrell, and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Everyone from the Huffington Post to the New York Times have written about this shiny and modern-looking glass-and-concrete series of 8 interlocking pavilions nestled in the woods. But when I had the chance to drop in for a quick visit recently, I was most excited to see their small Andy Warhol collection – and especially one piece that few people had ever viewed.
I had read about the untitled “tempera, graphite, and ink on board” painting that Warhol created in 1949 as a college student for a “heads and hands” assignment. A fellow classmate at the School of Fine Arts at Carnegie Institute of Technology promptly bought it from him for less than $50 and kept it in her private collection, including over her bed after moving to Arkansas, until last year. Martha Sutherland, Warhol’s classmate, decided to donate the piece after 64 years because she was a huge fan of the local museum and because she wanted the public to be able to experience it for themselves.
I’ve seen many Warhol pieces over the year, including a large exhibit in Chicago in 2005. But I was excited to see something from a 21-year-old who wasn’t yet a star and who still went by his given name of Andrew, or sometimes Andre, Warhola. (In fact, Sutherland reported that the signature on the back reads “Warhola.”)
And here it is…
My first thought was that it definitely doesn’t match the celebrity and Pop Art pieces the artist became known for. And the hands are really big! But there’s also something really interesting about the idea and angle of looking down at 2 older people sleeping, and the woman’s realistic face is very expressive.
Looking at it I wondered what the young Andrew Warhola who painted this would have thought about the Andy Warhol to come. And if the older Andy would have had some advice for the young artist…
Of course, I was also happy to check out the museum’s other Warhol pieces, including a Coca-Cola bottle painted in 1962 and a Dolly Parton screen print on canvas, created in 1985. Now these looked more like what I was expecting!
And yet, it’s the memory of being able to peer into the heart of a soon-to-be-legend that really sticks with me. Congratulations to Crystal Bridges for giving a spectacular home to such an interesting piece!